Can you even imagine your first job right out of the University of Mississippi being curator of exhibits at the Old Capitol? And then, almost 20 years later, when you're back with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History—part time—being asked to go check on Miss Welty's yard? And having that turn into a 10-year-long odyssey of cohesive research and tireless effort that culminated this past weekend with the opening of the garden at Eudora Welty's Belhaven home?
That's just what's happened with Susan Haltom, 50, since she graduated from Ole Miss in 1975. The mother of three sons now lives on 13 acres in Ridgeland where her family settled 15 years ago after travelling around the country during her husband Jim's medical training.
Haltom vividly remembers talking with Miss Welty back in 1994. "We were in her living room, and it was so poignantly sad when she said, 'I can't bear to look out the window and see what's happened to my mother's garden.'"
With the help of volunteer labor—people still volunteer to weed today—the honeysuckle and poison ivy were pulled off the beds. "Then we just watched," she said.
Essentially, the same thing is still happening—the uncovered garden is there for us to watch, just the way Miss Welty and her mother used to do. Visit now and enjoy the pale lavender azalea, beside the arbor entrance to the garden, and the aptly named Lady Banks rose. She's at the east end of the 50-foot trellis separating the upper and lower gardens and resembles nothing more than the muted yellow hoop skirt of a Southern belle, gently rippling in a spring breeze. Splashes of color are everywhere—lavender verbena, red poppies, blue ragged robins, white spirea and sweet alyssum, jewel-bright phlox and larkspur.
"When we restored the garden, we kept it true to the spirit of the place—a term people use in the study of her literature but we can appreciate in the garden, too," Haltom, now a full-time garden designer, says. The time period selected for the restoration is 1925 to 1945, the first 20 years the Weltys lived in the house.
As we sat in the arbor at the center of the trellis, Haltom looked around for a moment and said, "I wish she could look out and see it now."
The Welty House garden will be open for tours on Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Free. Reservations needed. E-mail [e-mail missing], or call 353-7762.